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Pentax Optio A10 Digital Camera Review
by  -  4/14/2006

The Pentax Optio A10 is the leader of the Optio pack. The very compact 8 megapixel camera is packed with features, including a CCD-shift image stabilization mechanism. A 2.5 inch LCD and 3x optical zoom round out the top specs of this camera. So, is the A10 is as "Advanced" as the A in its name implies?

pentax optio a10
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NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

The A10 doesn't leave any room for an optical viewfinder, so you're stuck with the 2.5 inch LCD. No worries, since the 232K pixels of the screen provide a sharp, color accurate display. It's not completely fluid while panning the camera moderately fast, but it is adequate. The LCD was a little hard to see in full sunlight. Even with no optical viewfinder, you can toggle the display completely off using the Ok button. Continued presses of the Ok button present varying amounts of information, with the most informative display showing the mode, flash status, Shake Reduction status, battery status, image resolution and quality, white balance setting, metering mode, ISO setting, and a live histogram.

pentax optio a10
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Zoom Lens

The 3x optical zoom lens on the A10 has a focal length range of 7.9mm - 23.7mm (35mm equivalent of 37.5mm - 112.5 mm). The aperture range of the lens is f2.8 - f/5.4.

Shooting Modes

On the Pentax A10, you can shoot a single frame, with a 10 second timer, with a 2 second timer, in continuous mode, and with a remote. If you have the optional remote, you can trigger the shutter on a 3 second delay or immediately.

Shake Reduction (SR)

Shake Reduction is Pentax' name for their optical image stabilization technology. A dedicated processor crunches the data from some internal gyros to determine now to adjust the CCD shift mechanism to provide image stabilization. A button on the top of the camera enables the SR "preview" so you can see the results of the image stabilization on the screen.

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Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

The TTL contrast detection 5 point auto focus has a range of 1.15 feet to infinity in Normal mode, 4.7 inches to 1.64 feet in Macro mode, and 2.36 inches to 5.91 inches in Super Macro mode.

While shooting, you can choose between standard Auto Focus, Macro, Super Macro, Pan Focus, Infinity Mode, and Manual Focus. By default, the camera is set to a multiple area focus, but you can also choose Spot focus, and Tracking AF. The tracking focus is a nice feature that is automatically enabled in certain shooting modes (like Pet mode). Once auto-focus is achieved with a partial press of the shutter, the AF point will follow the object that it is focused on (within reason). The idea is that a moving pet will be "tracked" with the Tracking AF.

Flash

Pentax claims that the flash has a range of 5m when at full wide angle mode and 2.5m when shooting at full telephoto. You can set the mode to Auto, Disabled, Always On, Red-eye reducing Auto, Red-eye reducing always on, and Soft Flash (lower intensity).

Memory Media

24MB of internal memory and an additional slot that accepts SD memory

Image and Movie File Formats

Still images are stored in JPEG format. Movies are stored as AVI (MPEG-4 DivX) files.

Connectivity

USB 2.0, A/V out, and DC in

Power

Power is provided by a 710mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery (D-LI8). The battery can be charged in the camera, by placing the camera in the cradle. If you have a spare, or want to take the battery out of the camera, the included cradle has a slot where a single battery can be inserted. Charging time was around 100 minutes.

Battery life was not amazing. I got around 100 shots of "real world" use -- lots of reviewing images, deleting, and checking out the features of the camera.

EXPOSURE

As the top of the Pentax Optio line, the A10 is pretty well loaded with features. There isn't a shutter priority or an aperture priority mode, but you get a Program Auto mode that gives you a lot of flexibility with the settings. The standard Auto mode actually chooses between Normal, Night Scene, Landscape, and Portrait modes. A small icon appears after a partial shutter press to show you which one it has picked. If you want to access the other shooting modes, just press the Mode button to enter the Mode Palette. From here, you can choose Landscape, Flower, Portrait, Candlelight, Surf & Snow, Sport, Pet, Text, and Food modes.

Movie Mode

To enable the movie mode on the A10, you'll need to enabled it via the Mode Palette. You can capture movies, with sound, at 640x480 and 320x240 at 30 frames per second. You can capture movies as long as you have storage space. The Shake Reduction is enabled by default during movie capture and you can't use the optical zoom.

Metering

With the Pentax A10, you get three light metering modes. The default is a multi-segment metering mode that evaluates the entire frame and determines exposure that way. If you need more control over metering, you can also choose a Center-Weighted mode or Spot mode. Center-weighted only evaluates the center of the frame, while the Spot mode evaluates a smaller spot in the center of the frame.

White Balance (WB)

With several preset white balance settings and a way to set a custom white balance, the A10 should have the white balance covered. The presets are Auto, Daylight, Shade, Tungsten Light, and Fluorescent Light. Switch to Manual mode to set your own white balance by placing a white target in front of the camera and pressing the "Green" button.  The Auto mode does a good job in mixed lighting conditions.

Sensitivity

The A10 provides a pretty standard range of ISO (sensitivity) values. In Program Auto, and most other shooting modes, you can select Auto or ISO values of 50, 100, 200, and 400. When you're in Candlelight mode, the camera will shoot at ISO 800, if needed. With the A10, noise performance was good at ISO 50 and 100. If you don't want visible noise in your images, I would try to avoid anything higher. If you do print at 4x6, then ISO 200 images will appear just fine at a normal viewing distance.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

During image capture, you can adjust the exposure compensation, increase or decrease sharpness, increase or decrease saturation, and increase or decrease the contrast. If you want to further tweak your images, there are several things you can do from the Playback menu.

During playback, you can adjust the physical properties of the image by resizing, cropping, or rotating. If you want to edit the image, you can apply a Color Filter, where you can make the image black & white, or give it a red, green, or blue hue. When you apply a filter, you're prompted to overwrite the original, save as a new image, or cancel the filter. In a similar way, you can apply several different effects with the Digital Filter and adjust the brightness of the image with the Brightness Filter.

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

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The Pentax A10 is very compact (as can see in the picture with the Hershey's Kiss) and comes in standard-issue silver. The plastic body is mostly a matte silver with some chrome accents around the edges and around the lens. When turned off, the lens retracts fully into the body and has a built-in lens cover. The battery and SD card are accessible via a swinging door on the bottom of the camera. If you want to plug the AV or USB cable directly into the camera, there are smaller, snap off/on access doors on the right side of the camera (when looking at the back).

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pentax optio a10

The ergonomics of the camera are good, for a camera this size. Some buttons are small, but they provide enough positive feedback that it's easy to tell when you've depressed a button. The five way directional pad on the back is actually five separate buttons (as opposed to one piece of plastic that rocks one way or another) -- a wise choice by the Pentax designers. The only open space on the back has some raised bumps so your thumb can find a nice resting spot.

Another nice thing that I like about the A10 is the customizability of the camera. There is a whole screen in the main Menu that allows you to tell the camera which settings to save for the next time you turn the camera on. For example, if you always want to shoot with a -1 EV setting for exposure compensation, you just click Menu, scroll down to Memory, scroll down to Exposure Compensation and mark the checkbox to tell the camera to save that setting. Also, there is a "Green" button on the lower right of the camera. This button can be customized to enable certain features. By default, it controls the Shake Reduction modes, but you can also use it as a one click button to switch to Movie mode, or as a "Fn Setting" which allows you to use the directional pad to adjust other camera settings (that you assign).

Included in the box

USB cable, AV cable, wrist strap, lithium-ion battery (D-L18), battery charging stand, AC cord to attach to stand, CD-ROM with software, user's manual, and warranty card

PERFORMANCE

Image Quality

The Optio A10 produced good images overall, but you may end up adjusting the default settings so images are more to your taste. In my opinion, colors were slightly oversaturated and images were just a hair underexposed. The images had good sharpness and detail across the entire frame. Chromatic aberration was also well controlled. Another type of image that I had trouble with (with the default settings) was a backlit subject. The multi-segment metering didn't do a good job of handling a person against a bright sky. To remedy this, try another metering mode.


Slightly high color saturation (view medium image) (view large image)


Macro shot (view medium image) (view large image)


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Indoor shot with flash (view medium image) (view large image)

Timing/Shutter Lag

The speed of the camera operation was good -- not the fastest, but not the slowest. Start up time was about two seconds and shutter lag was minimal (about average for this class of camera). Cycle time was also average and can be adjusted to some extent by changing the review time via the camera menu.

A Few Concerns

My primary concern is the battery life. The A10 is among the lower percentile of cameras when looking at battery life. Another thing that concerns me after thinking about it more is that, in my opinion, to get the best results, you need to increase the exposure compensation and/or adjust the metering method depending on the shot. A lot of users will not dig too deeply looking for how to adjust their settings.  I think a camera should take good pictures out of the box.

Conclusion

The Pentax Optio A10 is a nice compact point and shoot, but to get the best results with the images, you'll need to adjust some settings.  I found the images to have oversaturated colors, and to be consistently underexposed.  Also, the multi-segment light metering mode was challenged by some lighting conditions.  As I mentioned in the above sections, all of these issues can be adjusted in the camera - turn down saturation, turn up the exposure compensation, and change the metering mode.  However, in a market where a lot of people don't use cameras to their full potential, the default settings should be a bit more acceptable, so people can take good shots out of the box.  The battery life was unimpressive as well.

The Shake Reduction mechanism was very good and the A10 is probably one of the cheaper cameras that includes this advanced feature.  The images also showed good detail and sharpness.

Pros

Cons